What's interesting, though, is Francis's obvious grasp of the political obstacles to solving the problem.
In paragraph 178, he summarizes:
A politics concerned with immediate results, supported by consumerist sectors of the population, is driven to produce short-term growth. In response to electoral interests, governments are reluctant to upset the public with measures which could affect the level of consumption or create risks for foreign investment. The myopia of power politics delays the inclusion of a far-sighted environmental agenda within the overall agenda of governments.
It's immediately apparent in the excerpt above that his argument for action on climate change is interlaced with his long-standing objection to consumer culture. But his broader argument is undeniable.
Politics is largely concerned with immediate results; in the United States, it's often driven by election cycles. As the New Yorker's James Surowiecki wrote in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, politicians are better at short-term fixes than long-term prevention. He points to research from economist Andrew Healy and political scientist Neil Malhotra: "Healy and Malhotra found that voters reward politicians for spending money on post-disaster cleanup, but not for investing in disaster prevention, and it’s only natural that politicians respond to this incentive."
It's also clearly the case that "governments are reluctant to upset the public with measures which could affect the level of consumption." Much of the objection to acting on climate change is centered on the economic consequences of doing so. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush told reporters that he "[doesn't] get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my pope" — framing the issue of climate change strictly in an economic context.
Another argument commonly used against addressing climate change is one used by Sen. Marco Rubio: Many countries emit greenhouse gases, so the United States shouldn't enact "dramatic, unilateral" policies. Francis agrees:
Enforceable international agreements are urgently needed, since local authorities are not always capable of effective intervention. Relations between states must be respectful of each other’s sovereignty, but must also lay down mutually agreed means of averting regional disasters which would eventually affect everyone.
He's flipping the argument: Countries should use the need to act internationally as a reason to act.
When President Obama announced a deal with China to cut greenhouse gas emissions, we noted that it was a good rebuttal to arguments like Rubio's. But we've also pointed out that much of Obama's work on climate change could be undone by a new president.
Francis notes this, too. He uses the point to argue for the involvement of extra-governmental organizations — like, say, the Catholic Church.
[C]ontinuity is essential, because policies related to climate change and environmental protection cannot be altered with every change of government. Results take time and demand immediate outlays which may not produce tangible effects within any one government’s term. That is why, in the absence of pressure from the public and from civic institutions, political authorities will always be reluctant to intervene, all the more when urgent needs must be met.
The pope backs the idea of boycotting companies to effect change. But, interestingly, he rejects one of the more promising ways of reconciling the free market with the need to cut emissions — a carbon credit exchange — largely, it seems, because it involves the free market.
The strategy of buying and selling “carbon credits” can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide. This system seems to provide a quick and easy solution under the guise of a certain commitment to the environment, but in no way does it allow for the radical change which present circumstances require.
He goes on to make a another point to the same effect, quoting from the "Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace."
[I]t should always be kept in mind that “environmental protection cannot be assured solely on the basis of financial calculations of costs and benefits. The environment is one of those goods that cannot be adequately safe-guarded or promoted by market forces.” Once more, we need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals.
His broadest argument is a simple one. "Politics," he writes, "must not be subject to the economy, nor should the economy be subject to the dictates of an efficiency-driven paradigm of technocracy."
It's also the argument that's least likely to resonate here. The pope is not speaking solely to the United States, of course, but it's clear he's being deliberate in targeting American politicians. He recognizes that democratic politics means an emphasis on the short-term; he recognizes that a capitalist system will rely on capitalism for solutions.
And most importantly, he also understands that American politics has so far failed to do much about the problem. The entire encyclical, as we noted at the outset, injects the moral weight of his position to put pressure on elected officials to act.
Any who think that's not itself a politically savvy move are very much missing the point.